BY RICKY POLLITT
As the scoreboard hit zero, Maggs Physical Activities Center was in a sea of maroon and gold. The men’s basketball team had won their first CAC Championship in 13 years, and the Sea Gulls made sure it would be a game to remember.
In a game that was back-and-forth until the end, Salisbury defeated the fourth seed Christopher Newport Captains to give the Sea Gulls the victory they had long searched for.
With 0.7 seconds left on the clock and the score 57-56, in favor of Christopher Newport, junior forward Wyatt Smith went to the foul line shooting two of the most important shots of his life.
“Coach looked at me and told me he loved me,” Smith said. “I felt really empowered by that situation and a lot of players really get caught up in the moment. Take (the shots) one at a time and shoot them.”
Smith was able to make not one, but both free throws that gave Salisbury the lead with under one second left in the game.
Finally after one last attempt by CNU, it was over; Salisbury was victorious.
“These guys will look back ten or 20 years from now and just remember how special the moment was,” Sea Gulls head coach Josh Merkel said. “My four years here, I didn’t get to play in a championship game, but for those guys to have that experience was tremendous.”
Christopher Newport gave Salisbury a run for the title late in the game. The Captains led by six with just under two minutes left to play.
The Captains also took out one of the Sea Gulls’ most impactful players in sophomore guard Justin Witmer, holding him to zero points on the day.
“That’s one of the best things about our team, we don’t rely on one guy,” Merkel said. “(Witmer) did do well for us defensively.”
One player that stepped up and put the team on his back for the majority of the game was sophomore forward Gordon Jeter. With a team leading 14 points and 7 rebounds, Jeter gave Salisbury a spark in several key situations.
“We have a chance to make history here; that’s all I’ve been thinking about,” Jeter said. “All my coaches tell me to be in position, do your work early, and I just found myself able to make plays because I was in the right position.”
The men’s team were not the only ones celebrating today. Both Salisbury basketball teams won the CAC Championship as the women defeated Mary Washington 74-68 in double overtime. It is the first time since 1992 that the school has completed the task.
“I’m equally happy for the women’s team. We’re just excited for our student athletes, and to have that great experience, that doesn’t happen for every athlete.”
The victory not only makes Salisbury champions of one of the most competitive conferences in Division III, but it also gives them an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re going to prepare the same way we have every day all season,” Smith said. “Every practice is a championship for us, every game is a championship for us, so we’re going to take it a day at a time and try and get the job done.”